Buccaneers GM Jason Licht focused on hiring “right fit” as search for coaching vacancy begins
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are searching for a new coach for the fifth time in 10 years. History says they’ll set their sights on a big name, but not necessarily land their first or even second choice.
General manager Jason Licht said Monday he’s just “grateful” to have an opportunity to lead the effort to replace Dirk Koetter, who was fired after going 19-29 with no playoff appearances over three seasons.
“Ultimately, the results and wins just weren’t there,” Licht said. “Collectively, everyone in the organization has fallen short of expectations of what we thought we could do.”
The move to dismiss Koetter was not a surprise.
After going 9-7 in his first season after being promoted from offensive coordinator in January 2016, Koetter followed with consecutive 5-11 finishes that extended Tampa Bay’s playoff drought to 11 years.
What’s more puzzling is how Licht retained his job despite a spotty track record in the draft and free agency. The Bucs are 27-53 since he took over as GM in 2014.
“Right now, I’m just grateful to be here,” Licht said, without elaborating on why he deserved to stay while Koetter was let go after constructing an offense that ranked among the best in the NFL statistically, including No. 1 in passing yards.
Instead, the GM reiterated he is committed to finding the right coach to lead a talented young team moving forward.
“It’s been disappointing for the entire organization, but we are determined to get back on track,” Licht said.
The GM also made it clear that Koetter’s replacement will inherit Jameis Winston as his quarterback. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft is due to earn $20.92 million next season in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie.
“He has done some amazing things for a young 24, turns 25 in a week, quarterback that’s accomplished more than most of the elite quarterbacks did at his age,” the GM said. “There’s a lot to like about Jameis; Jameis will be here next year.”
The Glazer family that owns the team rarely grants interviews and is especially tight-lipped during coaching searches.
Early speculation about Tampa Bay’s latest opening centers around someone with a proven track record such as Jim or John Harbaugh if they become available, former Packers coach Mike McCarthy or maybe former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who worked with Licht while both were in Arizona.
The next coach will be the fifth the Bucs have hired since Jon Gruden was fired after the 2008 season. Tampa Bay has not won a playoff game since its Super Bowl run under Gruden 16 years ago. Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith and Koetter were not the solution.
Licht, who will be assisted by a search firm, is focused on hiring the “right fit” as opposed to an offense- or defense-minded replacement.
Asked if the search might include candidates who’d like control of personnel decisions that might ordinarily be handled by a GM, Licht said he’s a team player.
“I’m not going to get in the way, and let an ego get in the way, of getting the right guy here,” the GM said. “My job right now is to get the best fit for the head football coach, period. Whatever has to be done has to be done.”